Tuesday, March 27, 2018

What, already? The documentary of the year? Jed Rothstein's THE CHINA HUSTLE hits theaters and digital

Yes, TrustMovies realizes that the 2019 Oscar ceremony is eleven months away but he dearly hopes that over the coming year a small but massively important documentary entitled THE CHINA HUSTLE will not get lost nor be forgotten in the ensuing awards season chaos. Not unlike The Big Short in its righteous condemnation of Wall Street, the banking industry and the SEC, the documentary demonstrates (for anyone who still remains unconvinced) not only how little-to-nothing has been done to regulate our wretched finance industry in the years since the housing bubble burst but how newer and ever-more-sleazy scams have come down the pike to relieve investors, together with pension and retirement funds, of their resources.

Very well written and directed by Jed Rothstein (shown at right) in a manner that allows us to understand the ins and out of a rather complicated scheme/scam, the doc begins with a few voices, including that of Donald Trump, extolling the virtues of China, followed by a most interesting definition of Capitalism. We're then introduced to a fellow named Dan David (below), who immediately tells us, "There are no good guys in this story -- including me." Amen to that because we're back in the territory of short-selling stock, à la The Big Short, and just as with that situation and in that movie, the film here involves people who short sell at a great profit to them, while everyone else in the picture loses.

And yet in The China Hustle this short selling appears to be the only way in which these sleazy scams by China, together with the help of our own financial industry, can be stopped -- since neither the SEC nor our government will do anything to prevent this outright fraud, in which Chinese companies claim huge profitability and/or growth for investors but in reality offer nothing of the kind.

How is this possible -- particularly after all the horrible effects of our earlier financial meltdown? Rothstein's documentary explains this quite thoroughly, cleverly and interestingly: It involves something called Reverse Mergers, in which a company (in this case one based in mainland China) gains a listing on U.S. Stock Exchange by way of buying the corporate shell of a defunct U.S. company that is still trading on that stock exchange. It then promotes the newly merged company’s supposed potential for "enormous" growth -- all of which is utterly fake.

The tale of how this happened (it's still happening) and why, and how these frauds came to light, becomes a truly enthralling kind of mystery during which, along the way, quite a set of fraudsters are exposed from under their rocks. Some of these -- that supposed icon of virtue, Wesley Clark (above) is one such -- may surprise you with their embarrassing behavior. Others will seem pretty much like the usual suspects, finance-industry version. And while Mr. David reminds us that nobody's a hero here, a few of the folk we meet would certainly seem to qualify in my book, particularly the young Chinese man who did research in China for one of the fellows who helped expose all this and for his time and trouble went to prison.

Still, heroes or not, some of the (mostly) men we meet here are pretty damned fascinating, as are the various jobs they do -- from Matt Weichert (shown below) and his friend Soren to Jon Carnes (aka "Alfred Little") and Carson Block, the CEO of Muddy Waters (because, as the Chinese proverb goes: You can't catch fish in clear water). Director Rothstein, in addition to making the scams come to such immediate life, also involves us a bit in the life and family of Dan David, as well as in a particular culture of China known as Gwang Hi (trading favors) that makes these dreadful deals all the easier to perform.

Wall Street, it appears, has developed a whole new way to scam -- with the "illegality" arising in and from China, making it difficult if not impossible to prosecute here. We hear about Roth Capital, a company involved in so many of these sleaze deals, during which between 2006 and 2012 over 400 Chinese companies managed to list themselves, via the American shell companies, on the NYSE. An estimated $14,000,000,000 in public pension and retirement funds have now been lost to these Chinese reverse merger frauds. And, as usual -- concerning Wall Street, the Banks and "investment" -- the supposed "gatekeepers" remain either outright sleazy or just intentionally ignorant.

Like The Big Short, this film will make you angry enough to see red. And I do not mean just red China. Yes, the Chinese have proven themselves worthless scammers (it is not at all illegal in China to defraud foreign investors), but more of the responsibility lies with the American creeps who have negotiated and profited from all this. Not that most of us any longer have money left to invest, but on the chance that you do, if China is at all involved -- stay the fuck away.

No film I've seen in a long while has made me as angry as this one. Our sleazy finance industry needs an adversary as strong and organized as the student anti-gun movement has so far proven against the NRA. Perhaps, when they've won this battle, the kids can turn their attention to Wall Street. From Magnolia Pictures and running 82 minutes, The China Hustle opens this Friday, March 30, in New York City at the IFC Center and the Landmark 57 West and in Los Angeles at the Landmark NuArt, as well as in cities all around the country. To find a theater near you, click here. Simultaneously with its theatrical release, the film will appear on digital and VOD platforms.

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